The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals by Michael Pollan. Penguin Books, 2006. 415 pages with bibliography and index.
Human beings are omnivores, but that carries a dilemma. We can eat just about everything, but what should we eat? Americans are faced with a ridiculous cornucopia of things to eat, barraged on every side with advice about what is “healthy,” surreptitiously seduced with chemical additives, and still don’t have as much fun eating, or eat as healthily, as Germans, French, or Italians.
So Michael Pollan sets out to follow the food chain from “earth to plate.” He describes the three principal food chains, industrial, pastoral (organic), and personal (hunter-gatherer), and how they link us to the earth’s fertility and the sun’s energy. Now that may sound boring, but not in Michael Pollan’s hands. He follows each of these chains from plant all the way to the dinner table, and it’s fascinating.
From industrial food to organic and local
In the first part of the book he follows the industrial food chain, focused on corn, what the English call maize, the keystone of industrial food. He follows a bushel of corn from the factory farm in Iowa to its ultimate destination in a fast food meal.
From the industrial food chain he moves to alternatives to industrial, including “organic” (a narrowly defined label) and “beyond organic” and the “local” or “clean food” movement. Our old friend (familiar to Moneychanger readers thorough several interviews) Joel Salatin appears when Pollan visits his Polyface Farm in Virginia, and tries to keep up with Joel for a few days. You will laugh. Finally, Pollan tries to create the “Perfect Meal” by gathering or hunting every ingredient himself, from wild mushrooms to hunting game. You will laugh again.
When I say that a book is “charming” I don’t mean that it’s merely entertaining. Rather, Pollan presents a huge body of knowledge (he foraged all over the library) intelligently and wittily, so that you can’t wait for your dinner dishes to be put away and you can return to the book. He labors diligently to present both sides of the story, sometimes a bit too diligently, although not without profit. I, for one, would never have written a chapter called “The Ethics of Eating Animals,” unless I was talking about how much animal you should eat at one sitting. However, having read over it, and adding to it what I know about the nutritional damage of vegetarianism, my criticism can now tear into some of the silliest philosophy I have ever read.
Yet “cruelty to animals” does exist and Pollan doesn’t miss it. In Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) across the country, industrial farming has created bizarre hell holes, bad for animals and bad for humans. Earlier in the book he follows a single steer from farm to factory feedlot to factory slaughter. This trip will cure you forever of eating grocery store beef, pork, milk, and poultry. CAFO conditions are so unclean, so unnatural, and so brutal that they immediately repulse most reasonable people, yet this is the fare Americans are daily served, and daily eat – and the fare that factory farming assures us is nourishing.
Michael Pollan turns to the Paleolithic hunter-gatherer lifestyle his book takes an even funnier turn. This per- son who has never fired a gun undertakes to kill game and gather the rest of the ingredients for a meal. Along the way he meets some astonishing charac- ters, like Angelo who pretty much lives to eat, and the mushroom hunters.
Why would anybody read a book about food? Aren’t you risking become like the [caricature of a] Frenchman, who gets up from breakfast debating what he will have for dinner, and rises from dinner thinking about supper? Not at all.
Food freedom — let’s start here
The question of food in America today is central to basic questions of human liberty and honesty. Gigantic food processing cartels, university extension services, industrial farming interest groups, and for-hire nutritionists and scientists produce and promote plastic food that not only doesn’t nourish, but actually damages the human body. Industry and government recommendations usually take eating in exactly the wrong direction. Low fat, diet foods actually make the eater fat. Whatever they say is safe, probably isn’t.
And to clinch their stranglehold on the business of providing food, industrial producers & government have outlawed local, independent farmers and producers, crushing freedoms that mankind has known since Eden. A vast police state has been created supposedly to keep food “safe,” but in fact to keep the market safe for industrial farming and to exterminate small, independent farmers and safe food.
Worse yet, the factory farming, food processing industries, and healthcare establishment collude with the U.S. government to promote food, practices, and technology (GM0) that are not merely doubtful but actively lethal to human health.
Go-to foundation for healthy food
Just because you are not a farmer, or not involved in agriculture does not mean you can ignore this question. You still eat, and the food question is for you and everyone, literally, a life and death issue. Yet Pollan examines the whole subject dispassionately, factually and humorously. He offers every reader a good introduction to all the issues of food in America.
But don’t stop with Pollan’s entertaining book. For a partisan but objective and accurate look at food, you ought to visit the Weston A. Price Foundation website, www.westonaprice.org (or write to PMB 106- 380, 4200 Wisconsin Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20016 or call (202) 363-4396).
Weston Price Foundation is the premier clean food advocacy group in the country, and they address every food question. My family belongs and we have twice attended their national conventions. Once you have been around people involved in the whole food movement either as growers or advocates or as mere eaters, you will understand why I say that the movement for food freedom is the most powerful force for human liberty to appear in the past 200 years.
From the May 2009 Moneychanger newsletter. Used by permission. Franklin Sanders is publisher of The Moneychanger, a privately circulated monthly newsletter that focuses on gold and silver and the application of Christianity to economics, culture and family life. We have subscribed to this newsletter for more than 20 years, and consider it a must read. F$99 a year. Franklin is an active trader in gold and silver (he’ll swap your green Federal Reserve rectangles and give you real money in return). He trades with savers and investors outside Tennessee. Subscribe to his daily price report and market commentary on the website. F. Sanders, The Moneychanger, P.O. Box 178, Westpoint, Tenn. 38486 Tel. 888-218-9226.
Will there be any small local farms when the dust settles?
Are small farmers willing to fight to survive?